Creative Frontiers

Part of the ‘Applying Archaeological Theory‘ Strand Sponsored by Big Heritage

Creative Frontiers

Erin Kavanagh (Sheffield Hallam University,

Eloise Govier (University of Wales Trinity St David,

Applying Theory

to foster





to build


in society.

(Kavanagh, 2018)

Influencing perceptions is a role attributed to public intellectuals, yet archaeologists appear to be absent from inhabiting such a stage (Tarlow and Stutz, 2013). This session seeks to question if this is actually so, when our collective and individual works are engaged with the process of re-creating worlds, potentially impacting the way that society can be perceived.

We therefore contend that processes of making are a critical area of investigation for applied archaeological theory, requesting creative responses from those addressing the ‘worlding world’ (Ingold, 2017) through the production of archaeological narratives.

Questions include, but are not exclusive to:

  • What theories, methods and practices do archaeologists embrace to reveal/veil and re/create unique lifeways – and how might these shape current social debate?
  • Does archaeological theory simply scavenge from innovators, or does it create new frontiers of thought, be they disciplinary, commercial or conceptual?
  • Archaeological narratives have been apparent in creative media for millennia, from poetry to television. Could these be seen as oblique modes of social influence?
  • And are archaeological worlds peopled only by the past, and therefore not of relevance to a present public..?

Kavanagh, K.E. 2018. ‘Applying Theory’, in exhibition with The Big Heritage, TAG Deva.

Tarlow, S. and Nilsson Stutz, L. 2013. Can an archaeologist be a public intellectual? Archaeological Dialogues 20(1): 1-78.

Ingold, T. 2017. ‘On Human Correspondence’. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Volume 23, Issue 1. pp.9-27.

Keywords:  creative method; innovation; representation; social debate; world-making.



An Archaeology of Making: The Processes behind Doppelgangster’s ‘Everybody Loses’

Tom Payne (Sheffield Hallam University, and Tobias Manderson-Galvin (,

In this paper we draw upon theoretical perspectives from within archaeology, performance and the environmental humanities in order to provide an account of the making processes behind Doppelgangster’s ‘Everybody Loses: The Death Diary of Karl Patterson Schmidt’.

Utilising ancient creation myths and the recent historical narrative that is the death by snakebite, in 1957, of a world renowned herpetologist, ‘Everybody Loses’ seeks to bring the past into dialogue with the present, critiquing social and political responses to the global climate crisis.

This paper offers a critical reflection upon the ways in which archaeological methods (Pearson and Shanks 2001), theories and practices (Pearson 2006)  have informed the construction of this work, suggesting how past worlds might capture the public imagination in the present with a view to shaping social debate around climate change.

Pearson, M. and Shanks, M. 2001. Theatre/archaeology. London: Routledge.

Pearson, M. 2006. In comes I: performance, memory and landscape. University of Exeter Press


Into the Light – Art as a Creative Way to Deal with Egyptological and Archaeological Frontiers within the ‘Museum of Lies’

Katharina Zinn, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and Julie Davis (independent artist,

Our case study concerns the literal/cultural (re-)discovery of neglected ancient Egyptian artefacts in Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. Most of the artefacts once formed the private collection of Harry Hartley Southey (1871-1917), and were bequeathed to the museum in the early 20th century.

Aiming to bring these objects back to life, the archaeologists involved are creating simultaneous cultural representations (academic outputs, exhibitions, story-telling and a museum of lies) for different audiences. Our aim is to “unpack the collection”, to trace the “networks of material and social agency” (Byrne et al. 2011). As part of the annual exhibition in 2018, the Museum of Lies collected fictions inspired by these, as well as introducing art as narrative.

Our paper and video describe this artwork’s commission, the creative process and the ways in which art can enhance Egyptological research by overcoming the frontiers between traditional archaeology and the audience.


Lighting Fires: The Potential for Archaeological Interpreters to Influence the Next Generation

Kim Biddulph (Schools Prehistory and Archaeology,

The 2014 change in the English primary history curriculum provided archaeologists an opportunity to teach children on a hitherto unprecedented scale. The amount of archaeological interpreters consequently increased (including the addition of me). I argue that we are well placed to challenge public rhetoric around the purpose and method of education (Ingold 2018), which is on a slippery slide to rote learning and regurgitation. By intertwining educational theory with public archaeology, we can work with movements such as Forest Schools to encourage a return to creative curricula, promoting critical thinking, personal knowledge and confidence to ignite a passion for learning.

Delegates will get a chance to experience a selection of hands-on tasks to explore some of the principles of this approach. I hope to light a fire in the audience and ask them the question of how best to go about this work.

Ingold, T, 2018. Anthropology and/as education. Abingdon, Routledge.


Nonsense as Salvation: Archaeology, Digital Archaeology – and the Whole Truth

Vince Gaffney (Bradford University,

In a society where, increasingly, news is often fake, it may be absurd to consciously create digital worlds that represent the past. The inevitable recognition following these, is that much of what any archaeologist may digitally create is partial at best, probably misleading, or simply untrue.  In some situations this is problematic.  In others, this may be regarded as a lesser issue. The building imagined by an archaeologist from a geophysical survey, and experienced by the public consumer, is inevitably superior to the sum of a grey scale plot.

These situations become more complex as archaeologists fill the vacuum of space between dots, or explore the emptiness of vast marine palaeolandscapes. In such locations, digital reconstruction may be the only recourse to the archaeologist.  It may even be reasonable to suggest that these creative frontiers, somewhat like art, are not a mirror to the past but a hammer to shape our archaeological futures.


The Actuality of the Past: Experiences of an Archaeologist in Silicon Valley

Michael Shanks (Stanford University,

Drawing on experiences with Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, in automobile design and the Historic Vehicle Association of America, with software company SAP, while authoring an overview of the body politic in Graeco-Roman antiquity, I will offer comment on the potential and future of archaeological critique. This will involve a brief presentation of the case for a process-relational understanding of the archaeological project.


“Quick, someone call the archaeologists!” A Provocation

Ben Gearey (University College Cork,

Recent years have seen intensifying debate concerning the wider social role, and even the definition of, archaeology. This has been accompanied by an explosion in the application of scientific techniques which regularly generate extensive public interest through the media. At the same time, archaeology appears to be in crisis: In the UK, neoliberal economic models in higher education have led to closures of departments amidst falling student numbers. In Ireland, the union Unite continues to fight for archaeology to be recognised, and paid, as a ‘skilled profession’.

In this paper I will argue that the biggest enemies of archaeology are often archaeologists ourselves. Our ever desperate attempts to demonstrate social relevance are counterproductive. Striving to project archaeology or archaeological theories as public intellectuals plays into late capitalisms’ need for everything to have definable ‘value’. Instead,  archaeology needs to focus on the power of micro,  rather than macro, political engagements.